Meeting Bullies

Meeting bullies are an awful fact of life.

As much as we like to think they don’t exist, they are, in fact, a common sight at many organizations.

According to the 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 27% of Americans have experienced abusive behavior at work. You’d think that within a public forum like a meeting you’d see less of this, but you’d be wrong.

We asked teams at PG&E, Charles Schwab and Sony about them.

“Yes, I’ve encountered a few in my career” quips Ron Olson, Project Manager at PG&E.

“The sorry fact is, many people feel they need to be right – all the time. Instead of encouraging healthy debate and checking their egos at the door, they use their position, over-confidence and assertiveness to get their way, usually at the expense of others” he adds.

So, what can you do if you find yourself staring down a meeting bully?

Take it offline

A great fallback for overly aggressive meeting participants who get out of hand is the classic strategy to take it “offline”.

This basically means to table the interruption and address it outside the scope of the meeting. This can be a very effective approach – you can acknowledge a perspective (without validating it), disarming a charged situation while quickly moving focus back to the meeting.

Something like:

“Susan, that’s an interesting perspective – given that we’re talking about the project budget right now, why don’t we explore that further offline?”

Ultimately, this is something the meeting organizer should be responsible for doing, but in reality could be said by any participant.

“I’m quick to take topics offline if I detect any kind of behavior that isn’t positive” says Sarah Sullivan, IT Project Manager at Sony.

If the bully still won’t back down, point to your agenda and the time (you built an agenda and allocated time to agenda topics, right?) and remind her that you run the risk of going overtime if you continue with this discussion.

For some overly persistent bullies or those with seniority, it may be impossible to derail their rants. Move on to the techniques below.

Talk to their manager or HR

Sometimes, it can be difficult if not impossible to reign in bad behavior during a meeting. Rather than having your meeting dissolve into a shouting match, resolve to address the issue afterwards by speaking to the bullies manager.

Yes, it can be a bit daunting to go a level or two up, but senior members of your organization should be always be open to addressing behavioral issues. If their manager can’t or won’t intervene, contact HR.

And what if the bully is your manager, or, doesn’t have a manager, or your organization is too small to have an HR person or team? Then…

Confront them

As difficult as it may seem, many bullies respond to the direct approach. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to them, one on one. You can schedule a quick sit down with them in their office or in a meeting room.

The goal in a meeting like this is not to make your colleague defensive. Rather, its to point out the behavior you’ve observed, and that you’re partners in figuring out how to resolve this issue. Something like:

“Dan, I just wanted to share with you that in our meeting on Friday, you came across as being a little aggressive. I really like your passion, but it left David feeling a bit anxious. I’d love it if we could figure out how to channel some of your energy into input that’s positive.”

It may take a few sit downs and some gentle, in-meeting coaching to help steer them in the right direction, but the direct approach does work.

Jen Sullivan, a Project Manager at Charles Schwab agrees. “I will confront bullies offline, and more often than not, this approach helps tone down their aggression. Just making these people aware of their behavior helps shine a spotlight on what they’re doing.”

 

The most important meeting on your calendar

Is it your weekly staff meeting or morning huddle? Your project status meeting? Ooooh, it must be the company all-hands meeting, right?

Nope.

It’s your one-on-ones. That bi-weekly or monthly sit down with your manager.

Why?

Andy Grove (founder of Intel and its long time CEO) coined the term “managerial leverage”, which describes the multiplier effect managers have on the resources/teams/organizations under their supervision. One individual, with the proper combination of skill, experience and information can have outsized impact on the team she leads.

Nowhere else is this on display more that in 1:1s.

Given an hour together, an empathetic and engaged manager can get a comprehensive picture of where their teammate is at – how they’re feeling, what’s working for them, personal triumphs or challenges and how to help. This time can be used to further propel high flyers to even higher highs or can help re-position and re-energize colleagues who are encountering headwinds at work or elsewhere.

One. Hour. That’s all.

In addition, it grounds us in our humanity.

Too much of our day to day business is rooted in “achieving to plan” or making sure our margins are “up and to the right”, “shipping on time” or “maximizing the Net Promoter Score”. Laudable goals, with the recognition that organizations are composed of people. People with families, dreams, pain and emotion. While the business is set on achieving its goals, we must be aware of, and work within the foibles and strengths of the people who make up the tapestry of the organization itself.

And the interface between the individual and the firm? The manager. And the most effective tool they wield? The one-on-one.

Let’s look at the 1:1 from a couple of different perspectives.

Individual Contributor

As someone doing the work, you’ve got questions and concerns that are stirring in your mind:

  • How can I get better at what I’m doing?
  • Where is the organization going?
  • Am I being paid well?
  • My manager is doing a great/horrible job
  • How can I go faster?
  • My personal and work lives overlap, and I need help
  • I’m not engaged in my role

All of these serve as distractions from achieving mastery, autonomy and purpose in your position. Left to fester, the internal stress brought about by the above can serve to undermine your personal well-being and productivity, hurting performance.

Any well-intentionned leader is eager to address the above and goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable doing so. Is your manager a servant leader?

Manager

Your one-on-one time with direct reports should be spent really diving in to how they’re feeling.

Status reports are OK, but you’re really trying to uncover where they’re at.

Do they like their job? Are they challenged enough? Are they happy with their pay? What frustrates them? What’s holding them back?

The idea is to demonstrate empathy and connect on a very basic level.

Pierce through the bullshit and establish a very basic level of trust.

Really show that their well being is super important to you. (A little tip: you have to honestly and wholeheartedly believe AND wear this. All. the. time.)

In addition, seek feedback on how you’re doing. Don’t couch this as a line item to check off during your one-on-one. This should be something you earnestly look for and wish to improve on.

 

What else? How do you make your 1:1s awesome?

Jumpstart your meetings with agenda templates

We hear you loud and clear.

If there’s one thing that people like about Trackmeet, its agenda templates.

So we added some. Twenty to be exact.

Taking a cue from Google Docs and Microsoft Office templates, we’ve endeavored to add as many sample agendas as possible to give you, our users, a head start when building your meetings. Select an agenda and GO!

Don’t like what we’ve got to offer? No problem! Build your own.

Here’s a full rundown of all the new templates we’ve included in Trackmeet…

General Business Meetings

Staff Meeting – Great starting point for that weekly update meeting with your team. Collaborate and get staff to build the agenda with you by adding their own topics and content.

Management Team – Trackmeet is well suited for capturing status and ensuring your management update meeting runs like clockwork. Have managers/VPs own a topic and provide a description/attach a summary of their week.

One to One – Track tasks and take notes from your manager-direct report 1:1s. Get direct reports to assemble an agenda in advance and then go through their topics together. Send a summary once complete.

Project Management

Project Kickoff – Set the tone and expectations around your project meetings right from the start

Project Planning – Use Trackmeet to manage meetings throughout the project lifecycle

Project Review – Another variation for project tracking

Project Summary – At the conclusion of your project, summarize everything and circle back to identify outcomes and learnings

Board Meetings

Formal Board Meeting – Formal topics for the most common board of directors meeting topics and tasks

Simple Board Meeting – Simple template for non-profit, community and smaller board of director meetings

Startup Board Meeting – Very specific set of topics that startup boards commonly follow when planning a board meeting with investors and stakeholders

PTA Board Meeting – Great starting point for Parent-Teacher Association meetings

Committee Meeting – A common set of topics and content for committee meetings

Human Resources Meetings

New Employee Orientation – Review everything new hires should know. Attach supporting documentation and take notes or action items.

Benefits Overview – Dedicate a specific meeting to go over company benefits. Attach forms and supporting information.

Exit Interview – Cover off the key elements when people leave your organization.

Other

No Agenda – Just want to take notes or assign tasks? No problem.

HOA Council Meeting – Use this handy template to organize your HOA meeting, capture meeting minutes and assign action items for later followup.

Standard Order of Business – This is the classic set of topics as described by “Roberts Rules”.

Cross Functional Weekly Update – Meeting across teams? Use this template to facilitate discussion and content capture.

Strategic Planning Meeting – It can be super handy to have structure and a centralized workspace for your next strategy meeting. Collect thoughts, attachments and tasks for later distribution.

 

Something missing? Let us know and we’ll add it.

Jump into Trackmeet right now to start using these. Don’t have a free account yet? Sign up here.

 

 

 

July Enhancements

We’ve been working away for the past few weeks assembling what may be one of the largest releases we’ve done in recent memory. 🙂

Here’s a full break down of all the love we’ve poured into Trackmeet in July.

Custom Meeting Templates

Yes, you can now build your own templates. Add topics, include attendees, define owners and even add content.

CustomTemplates

When you go to create a Trackmeet meeting, we’ll pop up your templates to choose from.

Access templates via the hamburger menu.

templates-collection

New “System” Templates

Count ’em. We’ve added 20 new system templates to the template directory.

templates2

All of these are accessible when you go to create your meetings – just click on the “More” link to show them (just like Google Docs).

more-templates

See any that we’re missing? Let us know.

“No Agenda” Template

We’ve updated the blank agenda template to, uh, really be… blank. Which means, no agenda.

NoAgenda

You can add everything else – notes, action items, attachments and decisions. Perfect for meetings that don’t need as much structure.

Daily Preparation Email

We’ve added an email that summarizes all of your daily meetings (as read from your calendar, if you’ve connected it) that we deliver to you each morning. The email gives you a quick summary of your day, and lets you jump right into Trackmeet to start meeting preparation.

DailyPrepEmail

If you click on the “Open” button and someone else has created an agenda already, we’ll open it up for you. If you’re the first to access the Trackmeet meeting, we’ll prompt you to create an agenda.

Don’t like the email? Turn it off via Settings.

User Roles are self-administered

Another much requested enhancement is the ability for attendees to self-assign roles.

In this latest release, all meeting attendees are assigned the “Editor” role by default, which means everyone can edit the agenda. In addition, if an attendee wants to run the meeting, they can assign themselves the “Facilitator” role, which enables meeting controls (only visible to them and the organizer).

Attendees can create agendas

Related to permissions, lots of users wanted the ability for any attendee to create a Trackmeet meeting… so we did.

Even if you didn’t organize the underlying meeting in question, if you’re logged into Trackmeet, you can create a meeting agenda for it.

Integrated help

We’ve optimized the help experience to show you help content within the application itself.

InAppHelp

You can browse, search or submit a help ticket directly from within the app without having to switch tabs – handy!

Access help via the hamburger menu.

select-help

One-Click Video Conferencing

Finally, we’ve integrated with Appear.In to offer you one-click, no-account-required video conferencing.

It just works.

Tap on the video icon at the top of your agenda to launch.

 

What are we missing? Contact us to tell us what you’d like to see added to Trackmeet.

What we’ve learned about meetings working on Trackmeet for 4 years

After working on software for business meetings for 4 years now, we’ve learned a thing or two about them.

They’re funny.

Unique.

An interesting interplay of technology and personalities.

No two are the same, yet they share a lot of commonalities.

We thought we’d bring together some of the insights we’ve made watching hundreds (thousands?) of meetings and talking to hundreds of people about them.

1. Skills trump tools

There’s a reason master craftsmen can turn a piece of stone into a work of art.

They are, after all, Master. Craftsmen.

They’ve practiced their skill for years, maybe decades, and have honed their mind and body into sculpting machines, rivaled by few. Tools in their hands are like extensions of themselves – they serve to augment and enhance an already highly refined process.

In the same way, the best meeting organizers have practiced and honed their skills over years, if not decades. They are experts at agenda creation and have a keen sense for what can be achieved by a group in a given amount of time. Like a mini-CEO, they have a strong vision for what meeting outcome they want, and assemble people, resources and information to achieve it. They see potential roadblocks and plan around them before they materialize. They are excellent people managers, and call on all members of the group to solve vexing issues. They see technology as an aid. They understand how organizations work, and bring out the best in their colleagues.

Just like the master crafter, gifted meeting organizers use meeting tools (like Trackmeet, OneNote, GoToMeeting, video conferencing, etc.) to further their agenda, not for the sake of using the latest trend or what an organization dictates.

2. Awesome meeting culture starts at the top

How do you identify organizations with the best meetings?

Simple.

Find an org chart and let your gaze wander to the top. If members of the management team are all-star meeting organizers, there’s a good chance the rest of the organization will be too. All that meeting prowess filters down through an organization from the top.

Looking to change meeting habits of your organization? Train the trainers. Invest in ongoing coaching and technology adoption that starts with your management team, and specifically, your CEO. Habits that the CEO and senior managers demonstrate represent the kind of (meeting) behavior that is expected, and mirrored, in your organization.

Does your management team take well formatted notes at meetings? Do they leave enough time between meetings to regroup and prepare? Do they follow up on action items? Do they create agendas? Do they let others speak and share their ideas?

You can achieve outsized investment returns by ensuring your management team is doing meetings right. Invest in training and coaching here so everyone leads by example.

3. Measure meeting performance

We’ve come across a handful of organizations that measure and reward meeting skills. As in, their performance evaluations measure their ability to run effective meetings.

We spoke with teams from Sutter Health and Codan, and found out that they perform a 360 review around meeting skills for their colleagues. This blends into a score that finds its way into their performance review and, ultimately, compensation!

Overkill?

Maybe.

But remember the old leadership adage to “Inspect what you expect” and “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? If your expectations are for awesome meetings, you better be measuring your expected behavior. Somehow.

By simply adding an area or even a line item  within your performance management process, you can shine a little (or big) spotlight on meeting management.

What else are we missing? What are some interesting insights you’ve made into meeting culture across your career?

Using Consent Agendas for Board Meetings

Do you belong to a board of directors? If so, stop what you’re doing.

Right.

Now.

If I could give you 30 minutes back in your next board of directors meeting, how would you feel? Pretty impressed, right?

Simple. Adopt a consent agenda.

We’re surprised this simple practice hasn’t made its way onto more boards. Having personally run hundreds of formal meetings, using a consent agenda would have saved me tens of hours of wasted time.

What is a consent agenda? Its pretty straightforward really – group all items that are typically consented on – things like approval of minutes, approval of policies, etc. into a single topic and allocate 5 minutes for their discussion and approval.

Done.

In practice, this approach saves a considerable amount of board time. Why? Parkinson’s Law. By combining all consent topics into one, short topic and limiting discussion (which can be expanded if you find you need it), you are subverting Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands to fill the time allotted”.

You might think you’d need to spend 10 minutes reviewing the latest contract for HR counsel or even the CEO report. Resist the urge to do so. As a disciplined board, you should be NIFO. Brush aside all the housekeeping items and focus on the purpose of your board, whatever that may be.

To be fair, the consent agenda is not for every board.

Are you a working board? Are most of your board members ill-prepared for meetings? The consent agenda approach won’t work for you.

The consent agenda demands a couple of things:

  1. Source material is well prepared and sent out sufficiently in advance. What is “sufficiently in advance”? Enough time for board members to digest the material and raise any questions offline, in advance of your meeting. As such, concerns can be addressed individually without requiring group discussion.
  2. All Board members actually read the material you send them.

The resultant Board is then free to focus on what its meant to do – providing vision and leadership for whatever it is the overarching organization is trying to achieve.

Board Meeting Tips from the pros

Board meetings are an interesting confluence of structure, people and process.

They can be well organized and really help push an organization forward or they can be sources of frustration where little real work gets done. We hope you prefer the latter. 🙂

We had the opportunity to speak with 3 board chairs to get some insight into how they plan and run their board meetings. We were surprised to learn about the specific tactics they use, many of which we’d never heard of before! (Yes, shocking given that we are, in fact, a company that builds meeting software).

Paul Abra, Former Chair – Big Brothers Victoria

“Long ago, I adopted a fairly standard board agenda that places agenda topics into 3 categories: 1)  Items for decision 2)  Items for discussion 3)  Items for information. I’ve found that given all the board meetings I’ve chaired, content fell into one of these three categories” Paul says.

We were surprised to learn about Paul’s agenda template structure – specifically, that more boards haven’t adopted something like this. It captures all the content that’s typically presented and worked on during the course of a board meeting agenda. Perfect for re-use!

“In addition, I really try to push discussions offline that pop up between only 2 or 3 people. If it doesn’t pertain to the group, I curtail it! Better to do that than waste everyone else’s time” he adds.

Agreed.

Ian Batey – Chair, Victoria Housing Society

Ian uses the “Consent Agenda” to full effect for the board meetings he chairs.

What is a consent agenda? Glad you asked.

“The first section of the Consent Agenda lists all of the items of record from the past meeting, such as minutes or decisions and any items that can be read in advance, such as information items, letters, correspondence as well as update on ongoing issues, such as update on the progress being made by staff on implementing the organization’s Strategic Plan” Ian says.

“These items are allocated 5 minutes at the beginning of the Agenda, allowing for any member that has any issues, questions or strategic clarification to seek the information they need.  This topic also serves to formally adopt any of this information, such as minutes of the last meeting.  If there is more discussion on the topic(s) required, and the majority of the board wants to enter into more discussion, then the discussion takes place” he adds.

“This approach works especially well when the board is experienced, takes the time to do their meeting prep, AND has confidence in the CEO and quality of the documents in this section are well written and organized”

In addition, Ian says “This allows the balance of the agenda to be allocated an appropriate amount of time to be dealt with in a manner that does not rush the process and supports related opinions and issues to be canvassed thoroughly.”

Clearly, the consent agenda is something every board should consider.

Turning to how Boards operate, Ian provides insight into his general approach.

“Yes there are some board members that want to have their voices heard on all and every topic on the Agenda and some board members can become frustrated if, in their opinion, discussion on a given topic goes on longer than they consider worthy or necessary to make a decision” he says.

“It is the Chairs role, to ensure all relevant opinions and observations are able to be communicated and sought on agenda topics, especially those that impact the strategic direction and/or high level operational aspects of the organization. This includes asking members who have been quiet on a given topic, when it is known or anticipated they may wish to or should participate.  This is where aspects of the notion of Nose In Fingers Out (NIFO) comes into play.  NIFO also is impacted by the extent to which the Board has considered “what type of board it wants to be” and where on the Operations to Full Governance Continuum it wishes to operate.”

“The most important aspect of this is to ensure the board has a solid discussion about where it wants to operate on the Continuum and discussed examples to support the positioning. It also must be recognized that there will be times when the Fingers need to be In, particularly when it comes to issues like Risk, reviewing the Annual Independent Audit, or when there is a threat to the organization” he mentions.

“With this type of preparation in place, the Chair can then moderate the discussion at a meeting, knowledgeable of the range and be in a position to subtly steer the conversation through to directly limiting discussion on a topic.  The Chair can reference the earlier Continuum discussion as the reference point as to why they are directing the conversation in a particular way.”

In conclusion, Ian adds “Chairing board meetings is more of an Art than Science.  It takes skill, patience and experience to do it well, in keeping with the culture and expectations of the dynamics circumstances most healthy boards should experience.”

Sandy Wagner – Chair, VISOA

Sandy leads the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association, a group composed of roughly 350 HOAs, in addition to serving on her own HOA.

“I like to make sure that all the council members have the opportunity to give input to the agenda before it is finalized, then circulate the agenda and needed attachments well in advance of the meeting so all members have time to read the documents and are well prepared. For the actual meeting, we have extra copies of the agenda handy for anyone who does come unprepared.”

Collaborative agenda preparation – fundamental for getting maximum involvement and group buy-in.

“During the meeting, I try to give every board member a chance to speak to each motion, recognizing that some are naturally more quiet and others more outgoing. The quiet ones tend to have the most profound thoughts!”

Clearly, Sandy has experience drawing out her board’s wisdom, usually lurking in the minds of introverts.

“When there is a deadline for council members to respond to a matter we agree on the timeline together during the meeting and include that date in the minutes. Then a few days before the deadline we remind all the council members of the date coming up, and ask them to reply if they haven’t already.”

Again, sage advice having the group agree to a deadline – this implies accountability if everyone as involved in the decision!